Choosing Sides (2 Cor. 6:11-7:1)
11 Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. 12 You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. 13 Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 THEREFORE, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 And l will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.
7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Throughout history, men have had to choose whom they will follow. In Numbers 16, Korah, Dathan and Abiram incite a good number of Israelite leaders to rebel against Moses, and all of Israel has to choose between following Moses or following these rebels. When the Israelites are given the Law by Moses, they must choose between life and death, between obeying God’s Law or disregarding it (see Deuteronomy 30:l5-20). Joshua challenges the Israelites to choose whom they will follow (Joshua 24:14-15). Throughout the Book of Proverbs, the two paths of life are described: the path of wisdom and life and the path of folly, death, and destruction. The “son” is urged to choose the path of wisdom and to shun the path of folly (see Proverbs 1:8-33).
We have now come to the time when the Corinthian saints must also make a choice, between the authentic apostles (including Paul), and the “false apostles,” who are present and influential in the Corinthian church. When Paul first arrives with the good news of the gospel, a number of the Corinthians trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of eternal life (Acts 18:1-18). But not long after Paul’s departure, things start to go wrong at Corinth. The church becomes divided into little cliques, centered around a particular leader which each group follows with great pride. These leaders have a more appealing message and more appealing methods than Paul and his colleagues. They use persuasive methodology, altering and adapting their message to suit the fancy of their listeners (l Corinthians 1:18ff.; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; 1:1-4f.). To at least some of the Corinthian saints, Paul and the other authentic apostles begin to look less appealing, even pathetic (1 Corinthians 4:6-13).
Serious moral and spiritual problems are quite evident in the Corinthian church. Christians not only divide into little factions, one man is living with his father’s wife, and others proudly embrace him as a part of their fellowship in spite of this shocking sin (1 Corinthians 5). Christians take other Christians before secular law courts, and some even engage in immorality and make use of prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6). Some engage in sexual immorality as though it were not a serious problem. There are those who refuse to fulfill their sexual duties to their spouses, and some disdain marriage altogether (1 Corinthians 7). A number of the saints in Corinth proudly participate in heathen idol-worship celebrations and look down upon other believers who cannot and will not join with them, as though they are “weak” (1 Corinthians 10). The conduct of the Corinthian congregation at the Lord’s Table is disgusting (1 Corinthians 11). Their worship is often drunk and disorderly and looks more like the revelry of the pagan idol-worshippers. A number of believers abuse the church meeting by grandstanding certain spiritual gifts, as though these gifts prove they are better than others who possess less visible and spectacular gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14). One of the most significant areas of doctrinal departure at Corinth is a denial of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15).
One finds it difficult to believe the “false apostles” who oppose Paul and his associates are not at the root of many of these moral and doctrinal departures from authentic Christianity. Up until the closing chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul deals with the problems at Corinth in principle. As yet, he has not named names. The use of “Paul,” “Apollos,” “Cephas,” and “Christ” is a literary device (1 Corinthians 4:6). He does name at least some of those men who should be regarded as leaders in the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:15-18. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul clearly unmasks some of the Corinthian leaders who oppose him as “false apostles” (verse 13), who really are “servants of Satan” (verses 13-15). In chapter 13 of 2 Corinthians, Paul challenges individual saints to give serious thought to whether they are truly saved (verse 5).
In our text, Paul presses toward the “bottom line” of this epistle. The Corinthian saints have been reminded of the gospel which Paul and his colleagues preach. They have heard, once again, why Paul’s message and methods differ from those who are considered worldly wise. The reasons for Paul’s willingness to suffer adversity, human deprivations, rejection and persecution have also been spelled out. Now Paul calls upon his readers to choose sides. They can no longer waver between the authentic apostles and the false apostles; they can no longer vacillate about the gospel or the nature of true spirituality. They have heard all they need to know, and Paul calls upon them to face up to things as they are and choose which gospel they will believe, and whom they will follow. It is time for the Corinthians to separate themselves from the false apostles and their counterfeit gospel.
An Alienation of Affections
Paul comes right to the point—the Corinthians have a serious problem regarding their relationships. They have distanced themselves from Paul and the other apostles, while at the same time drawing close to those who oppose authentic apostleship. The problem is not with Paul or with his associates in the gospel ministry; the problem is with the Corinthians. Paul and his colleagues have “opened wide” both their hearts and their mouths. Generally, when relationships are strained, communication rapidly deteriorates and diminishes. One expects silence from one who has been offended. But Paul points out that the apostles’ hearts have not been closed; they have been wide open to the Corinthians, as their mouths have been also. There has been no alienation on the part of the apostles with respect to the Corinthian saints.
Unfortunately, the reverse is not true. The strain in the relationship between the apostles and the Corinthian saints did not originate with the apostles, but with the Corinthians. The distance is on their part. The apostles have not distanced themselves from the Corinthians; the Corinthians have withdrawn from the former intimacy they enjoyed with the apostles. Is someone in the relationship half-hearted? It is not the apostles but the Corinthians who have chilled in their affections (verses 11-12).
Corresponding to the frosty relationship the Corinthians maintained toward the apostles has been a very warm and cordial relationship with certain church members who seem to have taken a leadership role, yet who are really unbelievers. This is apparent from Paul’s words in verses 13 and 14. When he writes, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers …” in verse 14, he implies that this illicit intimacy and partnership with unbelievers already exists. He is not warning them about entering into such a relationship; he is urging them to get out of such relationships.46 The Corinthians have become partners with the wrong people.
Once the problem is clear, the solution is simple, although not necessarily easy. The Corinthians need to reverse some of their relationships to make them right. First, they need to be renewed in their affections and fellowship with the authentic apostles in general, and then with Paul in particular.
13 Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.
Paul urges the Corinthians to respond in kind to the apostles. The apostles feel warmly affectionate toward the Corinthians and have continued to communicate with them. The Corinthians need to respond in the same way to the apostles. Their hearts and affections should not be confined or restricted, and their mouths should be open wide.
Paul carefully chooses his words here so that the Corinthians are encouraged to restore and renew their relationship with him and the other authentic apostles. When Paul writes, “I speak as to children,” in verse 13, he in no way intends to be derogatory or demeaning. Most often, when Paul (and others in the New Testament) employ the term “children,” it is meant as an expression of warmth and affection:
14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children (1 Corinthians 4:14).
1 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, now working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children (1 Thessalonians 2:5-11; see also 1 John 2:1, 12).
In the closing verses of this chapter, Paul concludes the promise of God’s presence among His people and His call to purity with the promise that God will be a Father to His people, and they shall be His sons and daughters, His children. To be called the “children” of God is not a rebuke, but a privilege. Paul speaks as to children, God’s children. In another sense, he speaks as to his own children, since many of the Corinthians have come to the faith through his ministry.
This warming toward the authentic apostles, which Paul encourages in our text, must take place concurrently with the Corinthians distancing themselves from certain relationships with certain unbelievers. Just why does Paul prohibit certain relationships? It is because our associations have a great impact upon our own thinking and actions, as Paul has previously indicated in his first epistle: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). This warning is completely consistent with other similar warnings in the Bible concerning our associations. Proverbs, in particular, has much to say on this subject (see Proverbs 1:8-33; 14:7; 20:19; 22:24; 24:21; 27:17). The first chapter of Proverbs outlines two ways, the way of wisdom and of life, and the way of folly and of death. Evil associates characterize the way of death. Those with whom we choose to have the closest fellowship are those who have the greatest influence on our values, attitudes, and actions. One can only wonder if Judah would have gotten into as much trouble if he had not chosen to associate with his close friend, Hirah (see Genesis 38:1ff.).
It is very important to clearly define here to whom Paul refers as “unbelievers” and in just what context he calls for keeping at a distance. We should be very careful not to conclude that every association with unbelievers is forbidden:
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
Our Lord was also very clear that He purposed to associate with unbelievers in order to minister to them:
16 And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2: 16-17).
With whom then are the Corinthian saints not to associate? In the Old Testament, the holiness of God and His people, the Israelites, was demonstrated by their physical separation from the heathen:
6 “Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 in order that you may not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them or serve them, or bow down to them. 8 But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. 9 For the LORD has driven out great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day. 10 One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you. 11 So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the LORD your God. 12 For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you” (Joshua 23:6-12).
The Law of Moses was given, in part, to separate the Israelites from their pagan neighbors. Israel’s nearest neighbors, the Canaanites, were to be completely annihilated, including men, women, children, and all their animals. This was the ultimate separation.
16 “Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18 in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
The truth of the matter is that this kind of “separation” did not work. This “separation” was intended to keep the Israelites holy, by keeping them from learning the wicked ways of the pagans around them. It was never intended to keep them from the “light” of God’s salvation, for the Israelites were called to be a “light to the Gentiles” (see Isaiah 42:6-7; 49:6; 60:3). They were, however, to live in a distinct way and to demonstrate that they were God’s peculiar (unique) possession.
It did not take long for Israel to abuse her privileged status. The Israelites (much like Jonah, the prophet) disdained the Gentiles and had no intention of taking the light of the gospel to them. They used the Law as a pretext for discriminating against Gentiles and for looking upon themselves as a superior people. The Jews of Jesus’ day loathed the Gentiles and went into a frenzy whenever the evangelization of the Gentiles was mentioned (see Luke 4:16-31; Acts 22:17-22). The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed the relationship of Jews and Gentiles forever. Peter was very slow to recognize that God had repealed the Jewish food laws, and that contact with unbelieving Gentiles and more intimate fellowship with believing Gentiles was now not only possible, but mandatory (see Mark 7:14-23; Acts 10-11; 15; Galatians 2:11-21; Ephesians 2).
A new era was inaugurated with the incarnation of our Lord. Through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles were not only being reconciled to God, but to each other. The church is a holy temple, made up of all believers in Christ, Jew or Gentile, without distinction. In fact, all such distinctions are done away with, so far as one’s standing before God (Galatians 3:23-29). Some Jews would not accept this and were aggressive in trying to convince Gentiles that being a Jewish Christian was superior to being a Gentile Christian. Some went so far as to insist that one could not be a Christian at all without being Jewish (that is, by being circumcised and becoming a Jewish proselyte—see Acts 15:1). Paul frequently attacks this error in his epistles, and he does so in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.
Paul forbids the separation of Jewish believers and Gentile believers (see Galatians 2:11-21), and also any kind of discrimination based upon external appearances (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) or upon one’s social or economic status (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, esp. vs. 21; Romans 12:16; see also James 2:1-13). He does not forbid the “incarnation” of Christ through our lives, as we live in a godly way among the lost (1 Corinthians 5: 9-13). What Paul forbids is undertaking the work of God with those who are religious, but not Christians at all. I believe Paul’s focus here in our text is specifically on those who are in the church at Corinth, those who profess to be Christians and may even hold positions of leadership, but who, in reality, are “false apostles.” Jesus called such people “wolves”:
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” (Matthew 7:15-23).
Paul warned the churches of just such predators:
28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32; see also 2 Timothy 3:1–4:5).
Peter also issued the same warning (2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:1-4, 14-18). False prophets and teachers have been a danger to God’s people from ancient times, and they continue to prey upon the saints to this very day. We must watch out for them, and be very careful not to associate with them in doing God’s work.
It is very important that we understand what Paul requires of us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 and that we not misapply his words in this text. Paul wants us to live in this fallen world having contact with the lost, so that they may see Christ in our lives, and so that they may hear the good news of the gospel. He does not forbid Christians to associate with unbelievers; he warns the church against allowing “wolves” into the church and attempting to carry out Christ’s work with their help and cooperation.
Let me now mention some of the ways in which Christians may be in danger of violating the teaching of our text. First, there is a very serious temptation for Christians to become partners in the work of God in the area of finances. This is done when we solicit funds from unbelievers to carry on the work of God. The Scriptures are clear that ministering to the needs of those who minister is sharing in their ministry. To support false teachers is to share in their propagation of error (2 John 1:6-11). To support those who minister in truth is to become partners with them and to share in their reward:
40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42).
5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth (3 John 1:5-8)
It seems clear to me that Christians should not ask or allow non-Christians to become partners with them in the Word of God by soliciting financial support from them. Do not misunderstand; I do not mean that every dollar put into the offering plate must come from a known believer, and that every donor must pass some kind of doctrinal exam. I am simply saying that many who profess to be Christian churches, and ministries, specifically target unbelievers as donors. Many who would give to “charitable” works may be willing to donate to “Christian charitable works,” but I do not think such funding should be sought. There are businesses and civic groups which will donate funds to Christian causes as well, but does this not make unbelievers our partners in God’s work? This, of course, raises serious questions about seeking and utilizing government funds. The answers may not come easy, but we dare not fail to ask the question, “Are we making unbelievers our partners in carrying out the work of God?”
Second, political action is another area for Christians to ponder in the light of our text. Some Christians still think they are a “moral majority.” I doubt it. Those who are godly are in a minority. And so how, as “good citizens,” should we seek to have a political impact and influence governmental decision making? It is generally accepted, I think, that Christians are justified in making political alliances with those outside the faith, but with whom we agree on certain moral issues, like abortion. Once again I believe Paul’s words require us to give very serious thought to any alliances we might make with unbelievers, in the name of godly morality. Do we really think God’s power is so limited that the only way we can impact government is by mustering enough votes? Daniel and his three friends made an incredible impact on Babylon and its kings, just as Joseph did with Pharaoh in Egypt.
A recent manifestation of this problem is the recent declaration, signed by leading Roman Catholic leaders and prominent evangelical leaders, declaring their essential unity in many areas and minimizing their differences. All of this seems to be in the name of social action, in which these evangelical and Catholic leaders feel they can engage as partners. I think not. The fundamental issue here is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics do not agree, or they should not. That is what the Reformation was all about. Evangelicals have a different gospel than Catholics (unless those Catholics reject the doctrines set down by the Catholic church). There can be no partnership with unbelievers, and especially religious unbelievers. It is one thing for various groups to individually pursue similar goals (e.g. legislation which bans or restricts abortions); it is quite another for groups to join together as partners in pursuing the same goal. Christians should not become partners with unbelievers in carrying out the work of God. Let us beware of making alliances with unbelievers on the assumption that this is the only way God’s work can be done.
Third, we must beware of being attracted to associations with so-called believers simply because they make an ecumenical appeal. There are, in fact, too many factions and divisions in Christianity today, just as there were at Corinth. It is sad when Christians cannot worship and serve God together. Having said this, there are those who appeal to Christians to unify and work together when there is no basis for such fellowship and partnership, due to doctrinal error or simple unbelief. There is no virtue in our being united with those who are not united with Christ. False unity, or unity based upon error, is no unity at all. Beware of those who promote unity at the expense of truth or purity. Like Daniel and his three friends, it is better to stand alone than to stand with the wrong folks.
Fourth, we must consider Paul’s words in the context of ecclesiastical associations. There are various “ministerial associations” to which I could belong. I know of men who join them thinking they can have a witness and an impact there. The problem is that these associations often sponsor certain activities and programs as a cooperative ministry of various churches. I have no problem with ministering to unbelieving religious leaders; my problem comes when Christians minister with them. I believe we should seek to associate ourselves with other believers and even other evangelical churches, but these associations must never create an unequal yoke, making us partners with unbelievers in the work of God.
In the past, I was asked to participate in a Memorial Day service conducted at a cemetery near our home. This “civic” event was to include “prayers.” A Jewish Rabbi was to pray, and then a Roman Catholic Priest, and finally I was to pray. I declined simply because I felt my actions might imply that all these prayers were offered up on an equal basis. From this, some might conclude that God would hear the Catholic prayer, the Jewish prayer, and mine, as though there was no difference. There is a difference, and so I could not become a partner in this religious event.
I believe this third category is the primary one in Paul’s mind. The Corinthian church not only embraces a man whose moral life shocks the pagans of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5), the church also embraces men who are not even “sheep,” but “wolves.” These are not mere attendees; these are some of the leaders of the church. Paul calls upon the church to identify these wolves and put them out of the church. They need to embrace Paul and his apostolic associates and break off their partnership with these religious unbelievers.
Why We Must Separate From Unbelievers in Spiritual Ministry
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
Paul instructs Christians not to be “bound together with unbelievers,” and then goes on to give the reasons he requires this. From the middle of verse 14 through the first part of verse 16, Paul underscores why Christians and non-Christians cannot be partners in God’s work. He points out that Christians and non-Christians are worlds apart by giving five areas of contrast. Christians cannot be yoked together with unbelievers in God’s work because of their moral incompatibility. Christians are all about the pursuit of righteousness; unbelievers are sinners, whose common characteristic is lawlessness. Christians live in the light; non-Christians live in darkness.47 Christians worship and obey Jesus Christ as Lord of all; unbelievers are knowingly or unknowingly followers of Satan (see 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 11:3, 13-15; Ephesians 2:1-3).48 Believers and unbelievers have no common ground when it comes to their relationship with God in Christ. And finally, the “temple of God” has nothing in common with idols.
Christians are so far removed from non-Christians in spiritual matters that they have no common ground, no basis for a partnership in spiritual ministry. A Christian who is yoked together with an unbeliever in the work of God is like a fox and a chicken going into the egg business together.
In verses 16b-18, Paul picks up on the “temple” imagery, which he introduced in the first part of verse 16. He does so by citing a number of Old Testament “temple” texts which buttress his point. These “temple” texts have several important characteristics. First, these texts do not come only from the Law or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), but from the prophets as well (see Exodus 25:8; 2 Samuel 7:14; Isaiah 43:6; 52:11; Jeremiah 31:1; Ezekiel 37:27; Hosea 1:10; 2:1).
Second, while all of these texts speak of God dwelling among His people, only a few of them speak of Him dwelling among His people in the tabernacle or the temple in Jerusalem. Most of them speak of God’s dwelling in the midst of His people in the future, in a such a way that we recognize that the people of God themselves are the temple, rather than a mere building. This is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17.
Third, we see from the references Paul has cited or alluded to, that from the beginning, God’s plan was not to dwell among His people in a mere tent or building, but in a body. God dwelt among us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ (see John 1:14), and now He dwells in the midst of His people through the church, the body of Christ and the temple of the living God:
11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Fourth, because God is indwelling His temple, the church (not a building, but the body of Christ), His people must be holy, separating themselves from all defilement which offends and dishonors God. If the people of God separate themselves from that which is defiling, God promises to dwell in their midst. The relationship God has is that of a Father and His children (verse 18). Is it any wonder that Paul has just said to these Corinthians that he speaks to them “as children” (verse 13)?
Verse 1 of chapter 7 is actually the conclusion to this argument, and the chapter division is one that proves unfortunate. These Old Testament texts to which Paul has just referred are actually prophecies, for it is only in the coming kingdom of God that they will be completely and finally fulfilled. Thus, Paul calls them “promises” (verse 1), because they are yet to be fully realized. Only when God’s kingdom is established on the earth will God fully dwell among His people:
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them” (Revelation 21:1-3).
The promises of God about His dwelling among His people are the basis for Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians, and to us, to put off all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Knowing that a holy God is dwelling in our midst (and will do so even more in the kingdom of God), we should fear Him in a way that prompts us to put off all sin. We should pursue holiness because He is holy. Any defilement, whether in spirit or flesh, should be cleansed. If God is holy and can only dwell amongst those who are holy, how can Christians become partners with unbelievers? The thought is inconceivable.
These Corinthians have become too cozy with the world, while at the same time they have drawn back from the apostles. The solution is for the Corinthians to warm up, to open up to Paul and his colleagues, and to draw back from those “spiritual leaders” who are servants of Satan. The Corinthians need to wake up to the fact that some of those whom they consider most spiritual are actually not even saved. And having seen these unbelievers for what they are, they need to dissociate themselves from them.
That is what Paul says to the Corinthians. But what does he say to us? Let me suggest some areas of application. There is a very important principle here which we all need to grasp: authentic Christianity is a world apart from unbelief and from every other form of religious belief.
Sometimes Christians who wish to “market” the gospel try to make it look as if it is merely something we “add” to our life, which does not radically change anything. This is a lie! Christianity is not something we add to our life; Christianity is something which replaces what we once were with something completely new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christianity turns our life upside-down. Christianity is not compatible with unbelief nor any other form of belief. When we turn to faith in Christ, we turn from all that we once trusted in, placing all of our faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Any representation of Christianity as an add-on is a misrepresentation.
A second principle underlies our text which is fundamental: There are, and will continue to be, counterfeit Christians who come into the church to lead men and women away from Christ to something or someone else. These people most often profess to be genuine believers, and they may even be religious leaders. The Old Testament, our Lord, and His apostles all warn us about such people. We need to be on guard, ever alert to the existence of such folks. And when we recognize them, we must disassociate ourselves from them. Evangelical Christianity is plagued with many such hucksters, and all too many believers are being taken in by them.
Our first choice is to turn from the world, from our own good works, and from our misplaced trust, and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the certain hope of eternal salvation. We must realize that when we do turn in faith to Jesus Christ, we are turning from that which we valued, from that which we trusted in the past. Following Christ means that we cannot, and we must not, follow anyone who leads us away from a simple, pure devotion to Him:
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:1-8).
We are to follow Christ by following the apostles. But the apostles are dead and gone. How can Christians today follow Paul and the apostles, and turn from false apostles? We follow the apostles by knowing and obeying the Scriptures, which they have written under the control of the Holy Spirit:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:16-21).
1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4).
27 “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:27-32).
13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:13-17).
Let us continue to look to the Holy Scriptures to lead and guide us so that we may follow our Lord (and His apostles) as we obey His Word. Let us not use this text as an excuse for avoiding association with unbelievers, so that we may live Christ before them, and point men to Christ. Let us obey this text as we recognize and shun those who claim to be followers of our Lord and are not. And let us look to the Holy Spirit to illuminate us so that we may be able to do that which this text requires us to do, in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
46 The verb is an imperative, in the present tense. While it need not be translated, “Stop being bound together with unbelievers …,” it could be, and it sometimes should be. This appears to be one of those cases where the tense of the imperative is instructive.